an article written for zivim.hr
*I write from the perspective of a mother but I believe this might be relatable to fathers as well
Have you ever heard of mom-shaming? Even if you haven’t, you probably encountered it.
You know how it goes: if you had a natural birth – so what, you want a trophy? My grandmother gave birth while working in the field and then she continued working!
If you had an elective C-section or an epidural – you don’t think about your child, you only want to make it easier for yourself.
If you’re not breastfeeding – what kind of mother are you?! I’m sure you only do it because you don’t want saggy breasts.
If you are breastfeeding – don’t do it for too long or in public.
If you’re a mom that pays attention to her looks – I’m sure other people raise your child while you spend time in the gym or at hairdresser’s.
If you haven’t put any make up for months because your priorities had changed – you’ve really let yourself go, I wouldn’t be surprised if your husband found someone…
There will always be people with opinions on how you could and should be better than you are, there’s always someone on the internet raising the bar a bit higher. Please, don’t take this article as yet another criticism. I know motherhood is hard and most of us are already doing the best that we can. The reason I write this text is not to show how it should be done but to offer you some food for thought.
The importance od emotional and psychological side of child-rearing is well known – why it’s important to respect the child, how to raise an emotionally healthy kid etc. But there is one question that’s rarely approached: how to be a parent who can actually do that?!
If you’re hoping for a quick fix, you might as well stop reading here 🙂
Let’s begin with a few obvious things: children learn from what they see. I know, I know, you’ve already heard it, everybody says that… But it’s true that if children see parents who are truly calm, present, respectful and compassionate, they basically have no choice but to adopt that behaviour. We might have a child whose temperament is different than ours but behavioural patterns are learned by what the child sees and not by what we would like them to do. If you want children who listen to you, make sure you listen to them, even if they talk about a video game you’re not particularly interested in – ask questions, really actively listen and whenever you can, learn something about your child’s emotional world.
Don’t expect your child to have the emotional maturity of an adult. You wouldn’t expect a 5-year old or a 14-year old to run a marathon or to have a mental capacity of a 35-year old person, so don’t expect them to be handle every situation reasonably. They are still growing up and developing, even when they are already taller than us. They need our support in order to become mature.
What can help us parents to stay sane and calm in the process?
I can only share what I found to be helpful and maybe someone will be inspired by some piece of my story. The three segments I’m writing about are inseparable in my life, they support and complement each other but I present them separately here for easier understanding.
Psychotherapy is not something you do when you can’t function anymore. It’s a kind of an emotional and mental hygiene: recognising what’s polluting my personal and family life and learning where the mess really came from and how can I clean it.
Through my own therapeutic process, I begin to understand why I have so many unrealistic fears and worries that I project onto my children; why one of my kids easily triggers my anger and I lose patience with him/her and why do I always protect the other child and do things instead of him/her. I recognise that I do have an expectation that my child fulfils my needs for love and support, I recognise that I want a perfect child so that I could be validated as a wonderful mother and I do get disappointed when it doesn’t happen…
I become aware that my child reminds me of my ex-husband or my younger sister and that part of my emotions towards my child originates from those older relationships and emotions. I admit to myself that in some areas I don’t want to take responsibility for myself and my decisions.
But the most important thing is: in therapy I am the one who is being supported and it’s a place where I can be who I am. I can express my emotions, shout or cry, be immature, touch those parts of my inner world I’m afraid to admit I have. Psychotherapy is not a method I learn and practice in front of a mirror – psychotherapy deeply transforms me and this new me slowly discovers that she has an option to react differently.
The meditation I’m referring to is not about sitting with your legs crossed while incense sticks are burning nor it’s an endless repetition of mantras in order to reach an ecstatic state. Meditation is a simple (not to be confused with easy) practice, which means you learn it and then you repeat, repeat, repeat it until it becomes a part of you, so its benefits are always within your reach.
Imagine you’re on a stage, and a drama is being played. Some actors are yelling, some are crying, the others are sitting with an empty stare, smething just exploded behind the scene, there’s smoke coming from the kitchen and dog is chewing on something he shouldn’t. Stressful situations are exactly like that, a drama in which we helplessly participate and it seems like everything is happening at the same time.
Now imagine that you could take a few steps back and instead of being on the stage, you can sit in the audience. To really see this as a drama and not a real situation. To become curious but without emotional engagement, asking myself; is this what I’m seeing and feeling really true?
After a while, that’s what meditation becomes – capacity to step back and observe whenever it’s needed. We can feel the hidden pleasure we have in creating the drama, pleasure of being a victim or a perpetrator, feel that at any given moment we have several options. Feel that the observing part of me is always larger than the one being observed.
In real life it could look like this: I have to tell my daughter (again!!) to take out the rubbish and she rolls her eyes at me. The drama is boringly predictable: I raise my voice, she snaps back or starts sulking, I ground her etc. Boring, familiar and completely useless.
What will happen if I pause, take a deep breath and give myself time to feel everything that’s going on in me? Tiredness, feeling of being unsupported, a desire to pity myself, an impulse to hit her or punish her, envy that she’s so young and carefree, fear that if I fail to teach her responsibility, she will have a hard time later in life… What if I see each and every part of me as an actor on a stage, not taking it too seriously and not reacting to it? If at the same time I keep a strong intention in my heart that I’m not going to heart myself or the other person? Which options will open up?
The old saying says that whenever you feel you have only two options, make sure to choose the third one. The meditation practice creates countless options.
- RESPONSIBILITY AND GRATITUDE
Being responsible towards myself and others is a foundation of healthy relationships. In this case it means: motherhood was my decision. Yes, I’m the one who decided to birth this child and it’s now my responsibility to help him/her grow into a healthy adult. The child doesn’t owe me anything because I decided to give birth to him/her – they don’t owe me good grades, succesful life, not even respect (respect has to be earned). I’m not a victim of motherhood. Just like in any work I choose, there are challenges and it’s my responsibility to overcome them and learn from them. It makes no sense to rub it in my child’s face how much time or money I’ve spent on them or blaming the child because I feel worried/angry. I am an adult and motherhood was my choice. (If I feel I’m not an adult and motherhood wasn’t my choice, I go back to step 1 and start going to psychotherapy :))
My younger sister got very sick shortly after birth and the consequences of her illness left a deep trace on every member of our family. Knowing what it means to live with a sick child made me understand that my son’s health is not to be taken for granted – it’s a gift. It might sound crazy to someone but my son’s healthy arms, legs, eyes or speech are miracles I’m grateful for.
Being acutely aware that every being’s life is very fragile completely changes the way I approach my child. If I say or do things that I feel weren’t really OK towards him, I usually ask myself: “What if this is the last opportunity I have to repair this situation? How would I talk to him if this was the last time I see him?” These questions help me to anchor myself in uncompromising love. There is truly nothing in the world that could make me stop loving him. That doesn’t mean I’m being too permissive or that I never raise my voice. Many years ago he told me: “Even when you’re angry with me, I feel that you love me underneath.” And that’s it.
Angeles Arrien, an anthropologist, wrote a wonderful thing: «Teach yourself joy.» Literally, learn how to see beautiful things around you until they create joy and gratitude. Motherhood is such an abundant source of joy!
This summer my son became taller than me and it touches me to remember how tiny he was at the very beginning of his life; how I carried him with the top of his little head right under my chin (I think every parent remembers that sweet scent), his little feet reaching my belly button. It’s delightful to see him as such a tall young man now!
I listen to the silly puns he makes all the time and I’m grateful that his spark is always bright. I allow myself to be touched by witnessing him growing up. I soak in with gratitude every hug he gives me. It’s incredible how different he is from me or his dad. I’m aware that in a few years he will find his own way and these moments where we’re still living together as a family become even more precious and beautiful…
All this doesn’t mean I’m continuously in the la-la-land of love, peace and acceptance but that my inner compass has become calibrated by these three practices to always come back to these qualities, whenever something throws me off balance.
I gravitate towards peace. It’s a base I can always go back to.
The truth is that every mother-child pair is unique, deep and complex in its own way and that we all need to find our own way to walk this path. We have to decide how to choose a path of parenthood that won’t cause us shame or regret in 30 years’ time.
As Donna Ball said: «Motherhood is a choice you make very day, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is… and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”